The Un-God


Note: A pottu is a decoration worn by women on their foreheads. You might be familiar with the Hindi word for it, bindi.

Shash Trevett, our guest translator, explained to us that in corresponding with the poet she had learnt that the poem concerns the abortion of a much-wanted child. This personal insight from Latha helped us focus and coordinate our translation. Shash noted that her own interpretation of the poem, even in a ‘bare-bones’ bridge-translation version would have been much changed from this.

The subject matter provided much fascinating discussion of cultural and societal pressures, whether the abortion inferred might have been occasioned because of the gender of a child or due to enforced sexual propriety. However, as the poem seems to eschew explicit revelation as to the rationale - or even the exact nature of the life unlived - we felt it best not to import a singular reading onto the poem in our translation. We noticed how hard it was to pin down exactly when things changed in the poem. It seems to move from a description of ritual with beautiful imagery to the unsettling sadness of the latter stages. But, read through, even the beautiful imagery is compromised, the startlingly bright butterflies are, ultimately, confined in the house - is their music liberating or oppressive?

In translating the poem we tried to do justice to both the particular reference points of the puja (the ritual preparations towards prayer in the first stanza) as well as the playful duplicity of certain words (the word for tumeric doubles as the word for yellow, a doubling we tried to convey by bringing out the implicit doubleness of all the words used for colour - the word for green also means raw and, in our translation, became ‘raw-green’).

We tried, as far as time allowed, to find aural equivalents for the sonorous free verse musicality of the original. So ‘pale-scented’ was preferred to ‘thin-’ or ‘faint-scented’ for its picking up the p of ‘pottu’. Likewise, ‘fluttering / and fluttering’ provided an onomatopoeic partner to the rhythmic fluency and repetition in the original.

Edward Doegar, Commissioning Editor